Destination Spain



I created the Meanderings section of this website to have a place where I could post photos and articles about planned travel destinations abroad. My first stop was going to be Spain, where I spent my junior year abroad and realized just how big the world was, that it encompassed much more than Virginia, where I grew up, and North Carolina, where I went to college.

If I hadn’t gone to Spain, I wouldn’t have gone to Mexico to do a summer internship at the Mexico City News; I wouldn’t have ended up working for United Press International, at least not in Mexico City; and my bosses at UPI would never have sent me to Guatemala. The Mexico-Guatemala experience added up to eight years, some of which was wonderful and some of which was wretched. It was the mid- to late 80s. Guatemalans were at war with each other, as were neighboring Salvadorans and Nicaraguans, not to mention the outside interests that both fueled and fed off of each conflict.

My time in Latin American later had an influence on what I did and where I lived. I spent eight years working for newspapers in Texas; as a freelance reporter, I’ve often written about immigrant issues; and in a quirky twist of fate, I ended up visiting the hometown of San Antonio Spur Manu Ginobili and writing a profile of him. I have many interests, but sports isn’t one of them, so the last place I ever expected to be is in Bahia Blanca, Argentina, looking at a life-size poster of Michael Jordan hanging on a wall in Manu’s childhood home. But there I was, thanks to Spain.

white flowers

Mom’s garden

There were later visits to various parts of Europe as well as Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, all of them attributable, really, to my first steps on Spanish soil.

Then life came to more of a standstill. My dad passed away, I moved back East, I lived in DC for a while then moved to Raleigh, NC, where by the fall of 2011 – 30 years after Spain – I was living a pleasant but uncharacteristically sedentary life. The economic crisis and limited funds had a lot to do with the standstill, but once the cash flow started to improve, Spain became my destination.

I saved up some money, renewed my passport, and had started looking into flights, when my 88-year-old mother slipped in the bathtub. In the past two months, she’s been to two emergency rooms and has been admitted into one hospital, two rehab centers, and now an assisted living facility.

As for Spain, it’s been put on the back burner. Instead I go back and forth between North Carolina and Virginia, where I pay my mother’s bills, disentangle the labyrinth of elder care options she has, make sure her lawn is mowed and the cats don’t starve, and grapple with her ferociously stubborn attempts to return to the house where she lived for 51 years.

swing set two (2)

Swing sets, old and new

After all these years and for all the wrong reasons, she and I have kinda sorta traded places. Uprooted by her advanced age, she’s had four new homes in the past two months, and I am staying put. Instead of going to Spain, where I first learned just how far afield I could go, I’ve been going home; and instead of discovering the new, I’m rediscovering the old.


Copyright San Antonio Express-News

This picture was taken by San Antonio Express-News photographer Ed Ornelas on a trip we took nine years ago to Bahia Blanca, Argentina, the hometown of San Antonio Spur Manu Ginobili.

It’s a brilliant photo that much more concisely than words depicts how Manu became the player he is today. Ornelas took the photo at Club Bahiense del Norte, a sport facility for schoolchildren run by his dad, an avid basketball enthusiast who taught his three sons to shoot hoops at a very early age.

I know these things because I wrote the story that ran with the photo. I never write about sports. I barely know the difference between a slam dunk and a three-pointer, so it was a complete fluke that I did the story at all. I was headed to Buenos Aires to dance the tango when my boss at the Express-News suggested I take a side trip to Manu’s hometown. Sensing a reduction in the cost of my tango dancing vacation, I said yes, and the adventure began.

Part one was Bahia Blanca, and once there, it became clear how Manu might’ve been destined for the NBA. His dad’s sports facility focused mainly on teaching kids to play basketball; his two older brothers had become pro players, one in Argentina and the other in Europe; and there — dwarfing everything else in his childhood bedroom — was a life-size poster of Michael Jordan.

Manu’s family and friend’s couldn’t have been nicer, especially if you take into account my aversion to sports. If there was a stupid question to be asked, I asked it. But a good journalist dives in no matter what, and so I did, not only there, but also in San Antonio, where the world of the NBA was much more strange and unfamiliar to me than being on the road in Latin America (where I once lived for eight years).

The hoops I had to go through to gain minimal access to Manu were mind boggling. I showed up for three practices where I talked to him for roughly 10 minutes each time before he was whisked away. I went to an autograph signing session, as well as a game, after which I went into the locker room. None of these things — while generous and accommodating, I’m sure, on the part of the Spurs — was what I had envisioned. I had hoped for the same kind of access I had in Bahia Blanca, the kind that would allow me to get to get to know the adult Manu as well as the boy Manu.

That didn’t happen, but it was an adventure nonetheless, one that I assumed would be a short-lived professional blip. So imagine my surprise when the story and my name cropped up nearly nine years later in a reference — a wee reference, granted — on the Spurs Nation website, where blogger Ikosub had this to say:

“Mrs. Ginobili was an integral part of making sure Manu’s childhood was not only about basketball. In 2003, Lucy Hood, an Express-News reporter, visited Bahia Blanca, Argentina, to meet Manu’s family. Here is an excerpt from her story:

‘Apart from school,’ said Raquel Ginobili, Manu’s mother, ‘everything else was basketball.’

(She) made sure her sons had balance in their lives. Basketballs, for example, were not allowed in the house because ‘they would damage the plants.’ And she doesn’t go to the games, because ‘they make me very nervous.’

Instead, she focused on education. The boys went through Argentina’s public school system and studied English at a language school.”

The Spurs play the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday in the NBA playoffs, and while I still don’t know squat about basketball, I am a Manu family fan. So Go Spurs Go!